WHY THEY’RE GREAT:
Thorsen’s Greenhouse has successfully finished an entire poinsettia growing season using solely biological pest control. And with 50,000 square feet dedicated to this holiday plant production, that’s no small feat. It was made possible through a three-part regimen of biologicals (the “good bugs”) released during the cutting stage all the way through finishing, which suppressed and/or eradicated fungus gnats and whiteflies.
Assistant grower Marilyn Norman was inspired to implement a biological control program after attending a grower seminar at Four Star Greenhouses in Michigan in 2015. After conducting some independent research, she checked in with suppliers at AmericanHort’s Cultivate event that year, and tried it out for the first time with their poinsettias. While Thorsen’s is no stranger to biologicals (they use them for thrips on several other crops), they hadn’t relied solely on a biological regimen all the way through a production cycle. The first year, they learned a few valuable lessons, including the need to purchase higher-grade sticky cards to keep an extra eye out for pests. “[I learned] what to look for and to really pay attention to certain areas, hot spots, where [pests] can pop up, and [also] how to place the biologicals,” Norman says.
As the poinsettias began to root, Norman sprayed nematodes within a preventative fungicide drench, which took care of fungus gnat issues at the beginning of the 2016 season. Amblyseius swirskii mites were distributed using an AirBug gun to combat early stages of whiteflies, then a combination of wasps on tiny packet cards — Eretmocerus eremicus and Encarsia formosa — were placed on stakes in the middle of the crop and released on their own. And after all that effort, “We finished completely spray free,” she says.
WHY THEY’RE GREAT:
Bernadette Clark, the trial garden manager at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., has been working on NCSU’s trial gardens since March 1984. She’s faced many challenges, from the city of Raleigh limiting their water to supply during trial season, to widespread root rot — but her job is to take those obstacles and turn them into plant trialing success. That’s what makes the trials worth doing year after year, Clark says.
As a trial garden attached to a university extension, NCSU’s goal is to solve problems for growers and independently inform the horticulture industry of what varieties do well and which don’t. It’s a role they are happy to fill, she says.
“It stays fresh each year because we have something new to look forward [to]. It’s the anticipation,” Clark says. “And how could you not enjoy working with plants?”
Here are three reasons why Clark says NCSU’s trials are among the country’s best:
- Weather tested: Clark says that NCSU’s trials are unique amongst those in their region because its constantly changing weather tests plants in ways not common in the Southeast. “We are in Zone 7 and our temperatures fluctuate wildly. For us, it’s a roller coaster," Clark says. “During the winter, we can have temperatures that hit the low 20s — and that’s cold for us — and then other nights it’ll be up in the 30s or 40s. Looking at the weather, there’s a 36-hour period where it’ll be near 70° and then go down to the 30s.” She says this allows growers to see how crops perform under less-than ideal conditions.
- Educating the next generation: “We’re in a research setting. We have students that utilize the facility. We have vocational groups from the local community college that come and have bedding plant trials for teaching purposes,” Clark says. “We have extension groups that come in, too. It makes us different, that we are heavy into the educational end of things.”
- A wide selection for their market: “People want a variety, and we’re in an affluent area. People are willing to pay to have containers filled with bulbs and the upper-scale plants. People around here tend to put in really nice landscapes — whether it’s an entrance into a shopping area or a subdivision near their home.”
WHY IT’S GREAT:
The Vineland Research and Innovation Centre has more than 100 years of experience in horticultural research, dating back to 1906 when Canadian-American businessman Moses Rittenhouse donated land and a building for an experimental farm called the Vineland Research Station. In 2007, it was renamed the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, “an independent, not-for-profit organization that does innovation for the horticulture spectrum,” says Dr. Jim Brandle, CEO. They are currently working on more than 60 research projects that will benefit the horticulture industry in North America. The projects vary in size and scope, but take an average of three to four years to complete.
Selecting research projects is a process in and of itself. One of the ways Vineland researchers come across project ideas and proposals is through their regular involvement with the industry. “We have broad connections with the grower community, input suppliers, retail customers,” Brandle says. “Ideas get generated up out of those things.” They have formal meetings with industry members and meet as needed when growers or business people come in with particular needs or interests. To decide whether or not to pursue a project, they conduct an “opportunity analysis,” which asks a few simple questions, says Brandle, including: “Is it big enough? Is it something that can really make a difference? And who is better off, and by how much?” Vineland’s goal is to focus on research that will make a broader impact on the industry, not simply solve one grower’s problem.
While greenhouse research wasn’t always a focus, it has become increasingly important over the years, with the first greenhouses being built in the 1980s. In the summer of 2016, a new, high-tech research greenhouse structure at Vineland was officially opened. In addition to increasing the research space, it was intended to better replicate commercial growers’ greenhouse equipment and systems. “You need to be at the same level as [growers] are if you’re going to help them get even better,” Brandle says.
Currently, robotics/automation and biocontrols are two important areas of focus. “Engineering wasn’t an area of research ever on this property,” Brandle says. “Given labor issues, whether that’s labor/supplier, labor/cost or the combination of both that’s affecting the industry on both sides of the border, automation is a big area of focus for us because it’s a big challenge [and opportunity] for our industry.” The biocontrols research includes projects for both greenhouse vegetables and ornamentals and is “front-and-center” for Vineland.
After the research results are finalized, Vineland disseminates the available information to the horticulture industry through a variety of channels. It can happen through provincial extension offices, by licensing it and working with partners to bring it to market, or even starting a company “if we thought that was the only way we were going to get the technology out,” Brindle says.
Vineland may conduct all of their research in-house if they have the capability and equipment to do so, or partner with other university or government scientists who do. They may also have a business partner to get the research and technology out into the industry, and provide financial support.
While Brandle hopes their greatest greenhouse research achievements are yet to come, so far they include releasing the Pixie grapes mini wine grape varieties; advancing biocontrols in ornamental crops; and developing automation machinery that could help automate the head house. Vineland is currently working on projects that aim to bring “more flavorful tomatoes and new tomato varieties [and] new biocontrol organisms” to market.
You need that new knowledge generation in order to help carry the industry [to be the best in the world]." — Dr. Jim Brandle, CEO
IMPROVING THE FUTURE OF THE GREENHOUSE INDUSTRY:
The future holds a lot of potential for greenhouse growers, but Brandle sees a need for more specific research. “Our industry has reached the point where they need to generate their own knowledge,” he says. “We are, in some places, past the point of adapting other people’s technology. Our summer conditions are much hotter. Our diseases and insect pests are somewhat different. Our markets are different. All of those things need to be considered as you try to elevate yourself from where we are today as a really excellent industry, to the best industry in the world.”
In addition to new knowledge generation, there are “big opportunities now in big data,” Brandle says. Growers are gathering copious data from their operations each day, and aggregating and sharing this data industry-wide could be key in optimizing production.
Lastly, advancing automation technology is crucial to dealing with the lack of qualified labor in a greenhouse operation, Brandle says. The goal for North American greenhouses is developing equipment that can handle the wide variety of crops grown. Brandle believes the industry is up for the challenge, and sees a fully automated greenhouse becoming a reality perhaps in the next 20 years. “The seed goes in one end and a tomato or flower comes out the other end — almost,” he says. “Realistically, if we’re going to stay competitive and stay in business, we’re going to have to do that to some level.”
WHY THEY'RE GREAT:
American Floral Endowment’s internships are a key part in preparing the next generation of the horticulture industry. Horticulture student Mary Lewis says the AFE’s Vic & Margaret Ball internship program is “a lot like having a job, but with training wheels attached,” in a video promoting the program. This scholarship in particular sets up undergraduate hort students with paid, three-to-six month internships. In addition to placement, AFE requires periodic check-ins from students’ professors, and also organizes internship matches outside of students’ home states to empower development beyond horticulture skills.
Another AFE offering that is making an impact is the Mosmiller Intern Scholarship Program, specifically designed for those geared toward horticulture retail. And last year, AFE debuted a business program aimed at recruiting non-horticulture majors to get involved in the industry.
“Our trustees are out there every day at industry events, says Debi Chedester, AFE’s executive director. “And that’s the top challenge: finding people.”
Greenhouse Management: In 2016, are you still getting the number of applicants you’d like for the internships? And does needing to support a declining workforce make the need for your internships even more important?
Debi Chedster: Absolutely [it does]. We don’t have the same numbers in production as we once had, and that’s a huge challenge just because the number of students taking those classes and wanting to be in the industry has shrunk. The number of universities offering horticulture [programs] has decreased as well. They’re still good numbers — we still award 15 to 20 internships a year — but it’s a shrinking field.
GM: What do you think attracts students to your program?
DC: We really cater to the student and faculty, and make sure we handle everything. We help find housing for them and walk them all the way through it so their parents are comfortable, the faculty are comfortable and the students are comfortable. We really spend a lot of time making sure it’s a perfect fit. We talk about goals and objectives and what they want to learn, so it matches with the host employer. [We] coach them all the way through.
GM: What is the process like to find the right fit for the student?
DC: When a student applies, they tell us exactly what they are looking for. And from there, we have a database of businesses that participate in our programs. Then, we match based on what students want to do and what our host employers need. And if there isn’t a match, we reach out to other businesses in the industry that maybe haven’t participated at all, so there is a match for both [students and employers].